A Day at Podere La Fonte: Cooking at the Source

One gorgeous afternoon last October, six American visitors eager to explore the undiscovered places of Tuscany and cook some authentic, rustic Tuscan dishes, arrived at Podere La Fonte for their third day of cooking with Il Campo Cucina.  A cloudburst had just passed through the valley and set the gray-green leaves of the olive grove shimmering in soft sunlight.

Podere means “farm” and La Fonte means “the source,” a fitting name for a farm that produces its own food and cooks old Tuscan dishes with antique implements just as the ancients of this land once did. Emanuela or Marco would be quick to explain that actually, the name refers to an old spring that once was part of the farm, but which now belongs to the property next door. Never mind. La Fonte is The Source–to me they are one and the same.

Emanuela Giua and Marco Garosi have owned their whimsically beautiful organic farm, which is nestled in the hillside just below Radicondoli, since the early 1970s and tended their sixty-some acres of vineyards, olive groves, heirloom wheat, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens with loving care and devotion. In addition, Emanuela is well versed in the local flora and makes teas, unguents and soaps with wild herbs she forages from the woodlands that surround their property, as well as from  the abundance of sage, rosemary, lavender and countless other herbs and plants that are cultivated on their land.

Podere La Fonte, an agriturismo, teaching farm (podere didattica) and member of WWOOF –the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms–is a place where travelers can experience life as it was once lived in Tuscany, but with the comforts of modern living to ease the way.  As a WWOOF farm, La Fonte takes in travelers willing to work for room and board, and teach them the old techniques that Marco and Emanuela learned from the elders of the village when they first arrived as teenagers from Rome. Depending on the season, WWOOFers may find themselves making elderberry blossom, cherry, apricot, fig, pear, apple or quince jams and juices, harvesting wheat or grapes or olives and helping Marco produce his fabulous wine and outstanding emerald green olive oil. As guests of the agriturismo, for a modest sum you can rent out one of the farm’s comfortable, antique furnished apartments and either walk up to the village at mealtime, cook in your own kitchen with vegetables you found in the garden, or have your dinners cooked for you by Emanuela.

When Il Campo Cucina guests go to La Fonte for a lesson, they make all vegetarian organic  dishes with whatever is growing in the garden at the time, supplemented with cheeses and other ingredients from local farms or the market. Typically we will make a pasta dish or two, a savory tart, a variety of vegetable dishes including Marco’s scrumptious eggplant parmesan (see Recipes for details), and rustic cookies like cantucci di prato or ciambelline di vino (ring-shaped wine cookies).

On the day our last fall group of 2014 arrived, Marco had just harvested and crushed the grapes for the beginning of fermentation, and he let the visitors climb up a ladder to peer into the vats to see what this beginning stage of the  wine making process looks like. Then we took a brief tour of the grounds and went into the grand rustic dining room for a cup of herbal tea or homemade juice, before donning aprons and rolling up our sleeves to cook.

Today, Emanuela had a special new dish in store for us: walnut lasagna (see “Recipes” for details). In addition, we made a tomato lasagna, eggplant parmesan, pappa al pomodoro, boiled chicory (for digestion, Emanuela wisely explained) fried green tomatoes, bruschetta grilled over the fire and drenched in the farm’s magnificent olive oil, and for dessert, cantucci di prato. It’s the sort of menu that sounds alarmingly, well, huge, until you see the dishes and taste them, then it all goes down effortlessly and you find yourself shamelessly reaching for seconds. At least that has been my experience!

Today was no exception. The guests rolled out their own handmade egg pasta, and while the lasagna sheets were resting, Emanuela showed them how to make bechamel, the white sauce Catherine di Medici is said to have introduced to French cuisine, and which is used in a wide variety of Tuscan classic dishes. She mixed the cantucci with her own hands, which is a sticky, gooey process but makes for a more tender cookie in the end than my Kitchenaid mixer with its metal paddle does. Somehow, in only three hours we were all sitting down to partake in a meal that would have taken me days to prepare.

Marco had set out bottles of his outstanding red and white wines and set the table, in between turning over slabs of Tuscan bread that were slowly toasting over the coals in the grand fireplace, and frying slices of eggplant for the melanzana parmigiana in the kitchen.

Then we sat down to eat, and we were so happy to have helped cooked the meal which tasted all the more delicious for our part in its creation.

I am eternally grateful to Emanuela and Marco for maintaining their beautiful jewel of land that graces the view below my own house in the village, where the impossible labors of two people and a few WWOOFers passing through somehow make  a cornucopia of high quality, organic products that awaken the tastebuds to the true meaning of life–eat, drink, be happy. If you are ever in the village, stop by their cantina and buy any products you can find on the shelves. You will never taste better quality, no matter where you might shop.

And if you haven’t made your vacation plans yet for this fall, join us for a week of amazing experiences such as this one, and discover the goodness of the true Italian life in off-the-beaten path Tuscany.



Piedmont Barolo and White Truffle Extravaganza – October 16 – 23, 2014


Join Il Campo Cucina for an exciting week of food and wine discoveries in the world renowned wine and white truffle region of Piemonte surrounding Barolo, Alba and Asti. We will tour and taste our way through outstanding, world class Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera wineries, learn to cook regional dishes, tour some lovely villages, enjoy a day at the International White Truffle Festival in Alba and hunt for truffles with a trifulau. Throughout the week we will dine in superb destination restaurants and stay in the luxuriously appointed, exclusive apartments of the Marchesi Alfieri Estate, which features an award winning Barbera winery and 17th century Baroque castle–an elegant, enchanting setting!

The week includes transfers from the Torino train station on day one and day eight, seven night’s lodging at the Marchesi Alfieri Estate, all ground transportation for the week, all meals, cooking classes, and wine tastings. Optional bicycle and Vespa rentals as well as massages can be arranged at an additional charge.

Price: $4,400 per person based on double occupancy with a $500 single room supplement (based on availability). A $1,000 deposit and completed booking form are required to hold your space.

Book before January 31, 2014 and receive a $200 discount off your week; pay by check and receive an additional $100 off.

Please note that the 2014 Salone del Gusto in Turin begins on October 23, the day this tour ends. We will be posting a supplemental Slow Food Festival package for those who would like to stay on and experience the birthplace of the Slow Food movement and taste their way through the flavors of all Italy.

Tentative Itinerary

Thursday October 16

12:00 Noon pickup at Torino Train Station, followed by a visit to the original Eataly, described as “the grand and glorious emporium dedicated to the finest foods and gastronomic traditions of Italy”, where we will enjoy a lunch of your choosing. Drive to Locanda Marchesi Alfieri in the Barbaresco village of San Martino, a 17th century castle and wine estate and our elegant and exclusive lodgings for the week. Check into your room, explore the extensive castle gardens and freshen up for the evening. Join the group in the Orangerie for an aperitivo at 6:00, then enjoy a wine tasting lesson with a licensed sommelier followed by a sumptuous dinner with paired wines from the region.

Friday October 17

Begin with a bountiful buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate. Afterwards drive down to Barolo country in the heart of the Langhe where we will explore the hilltop villages of Barolo, La Morra and Monforte d’Alba.  A guided hike through the vineyards will be followed by a wine tasting at La Morra’s noted enoteca with time to explore the charming streets and shops.   From La Morra we will drive to the nearby village of Monforte d’Alba for a delicious Piemontese lunch by chef Gianfranco Massolino, at Restaurante della Posta, known for reproducing the great classical recipes of the Langhe.  After lunch, we will drive to a famous Barolo winery for a tour of the vineyards and cellar, and a tasting of their wines. Continue to the fabled village of Barolo to explore the numerous enotecas and wine museums at your own pace. Meet for dinner at La Cantinetta, a wonderful and noted restaurant in the center of Barolo, serving traditional cuisine of the Langhe paired with Barolo’s legendary wines.

Saturday October 18

After a leisurely buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate, we will drive to the beautiful rural village, Neive, and take a morning hike through the vineyards just outside the town walls. Afterwards, you will have the opportunity to taste local wines in the village enoteca and explore the streets and shops on your own. We will meet for lunch at La Contea, a refined local restaurant that serves light, elegant dishes in a lovely dining room with frescoed ceilings.  Every meticulous detail in both setting and cuisine of La Contea has made owner, ToninoVero, famous all over Italy and the world.   In the afternoon, we will visit a famous Barbaresco winery, then explore the streets and shops of Barbaresco. Return to Locanda Marchesi Alfieri for free time in the late afternoon. Dinner in a San Martino village trattoria enjoying tasty local cuisine.

Sunday October 19

Enjoy a buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate. Drive to Alba for the annual White Truffle Festival, a must for foodies visiting Italy.  Alba’s truffle fair and market is considered by connoisseurs to be the best in Italy, where the scent of fresh truffles fills the air.  Explore the exposition hall on your own, and maybe buy a truffle! Enjoy a delicious lunch with truffles, of course, in a wonderful Alba restaurant, then drive on to the nearby town of Bra.  Bra is the birth city of Carlo Petrini, Founder of Slow Food, and where the Slow Food Cheese Festival is held every other year.  Explore the streets and shops, and taste amazing and mouth watering cheeses.  Return to the Locanda Marchesi Alfieri to relax and unwind.  We will end the day with a very special dinner prepared for us by a noted local chef and served in the winery tasting room.

Monday October 20

A wonderful buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate is followed by a drive to Cortemilia, the hazelnut capital of Piedmont.  We will visit a hazelnut farm where the sweetest and most flavorful variety in the world, Tonda Gentile della Langa, are grown. Take a gentle hike in the countryside surrounding Cortemila, and visit the charming village streets and shops. We will stop in a local confectioner’s shop specializing in sweets made with the local hazelnuts.  Driving on to the village of Santo Stefano Belbo in the Asti province, we will lunch in a noted local restaurant which will include pairings with the special wines of the region, including Barbera D’Asti, Asti Spumante, and Moscato d’Asti.  Return to the Locanda Marchesi Alfieri for a Piemontese cooking lesson in the winery kitchen followed by an amazing dinner paired with local wines in the winery tasting room.

Tuesday October 21

The morning begins with a leisurely buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate.  We then drive to the Langhe for the day, starting with a visit to the eco-sustainable Fontanafredda winery for a tour and a tasting, then hike or ride up to the enchanting castle village of Serralunga. Explore the castle with it’s ancient frescoed ceilings and the surrounding streets and shops, then enjoy a very special lunch in a restaurant with a breathtaking, panoramic view of the vineyards.  After, we will visit a famous Barolo winery for a tour and tasting, followed by a second visit to the fabled wine village of Barolo for relaxing in a village café or tasting wine in one of the enotecas, or—if you prefer, going for a ride on a rented Vespa or bicycle. On to Castle Grinzane Cavour that offers one of the most spectacular settings in the Langhe.  The Castle houses the “Cavour Regional Enoteca”, a most prestigious showcase for the best Piedmontese wines and grappas, and is home to the Order of the Knight of the Truffle and Wines of Alba.  Dinner in Michelin 1-star Ristorante Castello di Grinzane Cavour, in a beautiful dining room within the castle tower.

Wednesday, October 22

Enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate. Drive to Acqui Terme, a small jewel of a city, steeped in history and one of the principle winemaking communities of Brachetto d’Acqui.  The hot thermal waters of this historical spa town were discovered over 2,000 years ago by the Romans.   Spend the morning at the spa where people come from all over Northwestern Italy to take the waters of Acqui Terme, walk the village with wonderful enotecas and boutiques.  We will then enjoy lunch in a wonderful local restaurant.  Return to Locanda Marchesi Alfieri to relax for the rest of the afternoon. Join the group for an aperitivo in the Orangerie followed by a spirited farewell dinner with paired wines, beginning with a blind wine tasting contest with prizes to the best tasters!

Thursday, October 23

Enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast in the Orangerie of the Marchesi Alfieri estate, then depart for drop-off at Turin train station by 1:00 PM.


Please note that there will be free time every morning for bicycling, hiking, or massages.

Additional options available during the week:

Bicycle rentals, Scooter rentals, massages

*If you prefer not to hike, we will be happy to drive you to the next village where you can explore on your own until the group arrives.

Itinerary details subject to change.









Ranch & Coast Magazine: The Trip of a Lifetime to Tuscany

It’s easy to get lost on the back roads of rural Italy. Just ask Marlane Miriello. In 2000, the former San Diegan was enjoying a vacation in Tuscany when maps failed and she ended up in a tiny Tuscan hill town called Radicondoli.

“I fell in love with it,” Miriello explained to me, “and went back once or twice a year until I finally moved there in 2009.” It was the sense of community and sustainable lifestyle that first attracted her. “I was so impressed by the unbelievably delicious meals made in local kitchens that I started to research a cookbook — but then realized that no one in the village used recipes.”

In 2010, Miriello found another way to share Radicondoli’s food traditions: she launched Il Campo Cucina, a cooking school where guests learn first-hand about farm-to-table cuisine and the preparation of traditional Italian dishes. Groups of up to 12 people stay at Il Bel Canto, an 18th-century stone farmhouse and spend a week cooking with villagers, enjoying local wines, and soaking up the countryside. While the emphasis is on food, wine, and local culture, Miriello also includes a daytrip to Siena, dinner with a Count, and free time for biking, hiking, photography, and relaxing by the farmhouse pool.

Read the full article by veteran travel writer Elizabeth Hansen.


Authentic Luxury Travel: Tuscan Cooking School

It was a stroke of good luck that I met Marlane Miriello and heard about her Tuscan cooking school. The Italian-American was visiting with friends in San Diego who thought I might find her story interesting.

Of course, I was – not just interested, but really interested. Marlane and I are both of Italian descent, and I love hearing about travelers who fall in love with a destination. Our first coffee date lasted nearly two hours. By then, I knew I wanted to write about Il Campo Cucina – her Tuscan cooking school – in Ranch & Coast, San Diego’s ultimate lifestyle magazine, where I am the travel editor.

Read the entire article by Elizabeth Hanson on her enticing Authentic Luxury Travel Website, then enter the contest to win a free with with Il Campo Cucina in Tuscany!.


Win a Food and Wine Adventure in Tuscany!

Yes, it’s true–Il Campo/Cucina is giving away a Food and Wine Adventure week for one in Tuscany in 2013-14 during one of its planned small group tours (including all food, wine, lodging and ground transportation during the week; airfare not included). All you need to do to enter the contest is subscribe to Authentic Luxury Travel’s enchanting website and answer one question! You will find all the contest details here.

In bocca al lupo (that means “in the mouth of the wolf,” which is a Tuscan way of saying good luck)!


Best Palio Video Ever!


ESPN Wider World of Sports host, Kenny Mayne, provides a rich and entertaining view into the August 2012 Palio–which he viewed from the San Martino curve, where Il Campo Cucina guests will be watching this August! Enjoy!!




World Famous Food visits Il Campo/Cucina

Part II features four chefs, four days, four pastas and so much more! Hang on your hat as you soak up the knowledge and wisdom from the amazing encounters. Read about it here and make sure to read Part I as well from our friends Linda and Sue at World Famous Food!


Palio Ultimate Tuscan Adventure August 10-17, 2014

Announcing our 2014 Palio Adventure!  We have only 20 spaces available and we expect to fill quickly so reserve soon!

Our exclusive and spacious air conditioned apartment commands a stunning panoramic view of the racetrack, which circumnavigates the beautiful Piazza del Campo in the medieval center of Siena. View the most colorful and famous horse race in the world from a balcony overlooking the thrilling San Martino curve. where the outcome of the Palio di Siena is often decided.

Ten jockeys wearing their contradas’ (neighborhoods’) medieval costumes ride bareback three times around the perimeter of the piazza, as sixty thousand people look on in exhilaration, angst, camaraderie and rivalry.  Most of the sixty thousand people who attend the race stand in the center of the crowded piazza vying for a place along the track and a glimpse of the horses as they speed by. Our group of 20 will have the pleasure of watching the race and all the accompanying pageantry from one of the few private apartments with spacious balcony available on the piazza.

Join Il Campo/Cucina for the ultimate Tuscan summer vacation: a week of relaxation, delicious Italian meals with outstanding wines and cooking lessons with an exciting selection of chefs, combined with three days of  Palio thrills and pageantry viewed from a private Palazzo in Siena.

Would you like to know more about the Palio? Watch this terrific Palio video with Kenny Maynes on ESPN Wider World of Sports!

Il Campo Palio Adventure 2013 - Buffet dinner on a tower over the Piazza del Campo


The package includes:

  • Seven nights’ accommodations at Il Bel Canto B & B in the beautiful Tuscan village Radicondoli, approximately 45 minutes west of Siena.
  • All meals and wines, including the rare opportunity to participate in a Contrada Dinner in Siena the night before the race and an elegant buffet dinner in a tower above the Piazza del Campo, with a Prova (trial run) viewing on Wednesday night. The final night dinner will be catered in our private apartment after the race is finished.
  • Cooking lessons, photography field trips, hikes, and wine, olive oil and Tuscan products tastings during the first four days of our adventure in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
  • Our own official Siena tour guide who will take us through the experience of the Palio from beginning to end, including a guided tour of a Contrada Museum.
  • Outdoor movie nights and dancing with live music on our farmhouse terrace.
  • Swimming, hiking and optional massages, self-guided cycling and horseback riding lessons during our free times.**
  • All ground transportation, starting with pick-up at 12:00 noon on August 10 at the Porta Romana in Florence and concluding with 1:30 PM drop-off at at the Porta Romana in Florence or at the Florence Peretola airport on August 17*.

$4,900 per person in a shared, double room with ensuite bath; there is a $500 supplemental charge for a private room provided we have availability. If you pay by check or bank transfer, we will discount your week $100. (Price does not include airfare.)
We require a deposit of $1,000 to confirm your place; half of the balance by March 10, 2014 and payment of the remainder of the balance by May 10, 2017.

Returning clients receive a courtesy discount. Please inquire.

*Pick-up in Florence at the Porta Romana 11:00 AM on Saturday August 10 and drop-off at the Porta Roman by  1:30 PM on August 17. Airport pick-ups and drop-offs can be arranged with advance notice; an extra fee may apply.

**Massages, horseback riding lessons, and bicycle rentals are are available at an extra charge.

To reserve or to request more information, click here, or call our sales associate Debbie Tucker at: 1-858-525-1712.To reserve or for more information, please fill out our reservations and information form.

Tentative itinerary for the week

Sunday August 10

12:00 AM Pick-up at Florence Porta Romana

12:15  PM Arrival at Il Bel Canto B & B, check into guest rooms.

1:00 – 3:00 PM Seafood lunch al fresco at Il Bel Canto prepared by Chef Luana followed by Palio Presentation by Siena tour guide and general introductions. 3:00 – 6:30 PM Free time for cycling, hiking, massages or relaxing by the pool.

6:30 PM Depart for Radicondoli village to visit your friends in the village. Explore the streets and shops of the sweetest village in Tuscany.

7:30 – 9:30 PM Wine tasting with a sampling of Tuscan products at Agriteco In Piazza, the new wine bar and tasting room in the heart of Radicondoli.

Monday August 11

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM Free morning for cycling, hiking, massages and poolside relaxation.

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Lunch at Nazionale Ristorante

4:00 – 7:00 PM Cooking lesson with Chef Luana at Il Bel Canto.

7:30 – 9:30 PM Dinner enjoying the foods prepared in the cooking lesson.

Tuesday August 12

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

10:00 AM  -  1:00 PM Cooking lesson with Chef Francesco Costagli, Michelin rated chef of Albergaccio Ristorante in Castellina in Chianti.

1:00 – 3:00 PM Lunch enjoying the meal we have prepared in the cooking lesson.

3:00 -7:00 PM Free time.

7:30 – 9:30 Pizza dinner at La Pergola, winner of “Third most beautiful terrace restaurant in Italy” in Dove online travel magazine — in the village, right next door to Marlane’s house!

Wednesday August 13

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

10:00 – 12:00 Free morning for cycling, hiking, massages or relaxing by the pool.

12:30 – 2:30 PM Lunch Trattoria Nazionale

4:00 – 7:00 PM Cooking lesson with Luana

8:30 – 10:00 PM Dinner enjoying the dishes we have prepared in the lesson

Thursday August 14

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

10:00 AM Depart for Siena

11:30-12:30: Free time in Siena

12:30 PM Lunch at Trattoria Papei in Siena

       Piazza del Mercato 6, tel: (+39) 0577-280-894

2:30 – 3:30 PM Guided tour of the Montone Contrada Museum

4:00 – 4:30 PM Viewing of Corteo dei Ceri (Candle light procession to The Duomo). Sun protection needed.

4:30 – 6:30 PM Optional tour of the oldest quarter of the city: Learn about the Etruscan and Roman origins of Siena.

7:00 PM Arrive at the Tower overlooking Piazza del Campo; light refreshments served

7:30 PM Viewing of the Prova (trial run of the Palio race)

8:00 PM or immediately following Prova: Aperitivo followed by buffet dinner in Tower, catered by acclaimed PorriOne restaurant.

Friday August 15

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

Free morning for pool, biking, hiking, massages.

12:30 PM Depart for lunch

1:00 – 3:00 PM Lunch at Locanda de Mulino on the way to Siena

3:00 PM Depart for Siena.

4:00 – 5:30 PM Free time to shop and explore Siena on your own.

5:30 PM Arrive at our private air conditioned apartment above the thrilling San Martino Curve on the Piazza del Campo in Siena for the Prova Generale.

7:00 PM Prova Generale (it’s like a dress rehearsal for the actual race, preceded by some beautiful pageantry).

9:00 – 1:00 PM Contrada Dinner Eat, Drink, Sing, Shout and Cry!

Saturday August 16

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

Free morning for whatever you want to do: bike, hike, visit the village shops, have a massage or energy treatment, take a dip in the pool, or simply sleep in all morning.

12:00 – 1:30 PM Lunch al fresco at Il Bel Canto prepared by Alessandra

2:00 PM Depart for Siena

3:30 PM Arrive at our private apartment and relax in the air conditioned comfort with refreshments, photo ops from our third story balcony and an Italian lesson taught by tour leaders Marco Mattioli and Cristina Martini.

5:00 PM Viewing of the colorful, Renaissance Processione in Piazza del Campo

7:30 PM  The Palio is run…who will win?

Immediately following the race, follow the winning Contrada to the Duomo

9:30 – 11:30 PM Dinner in our private apartment on Piazza del Campo, catered by PorriOne Ristorante.

Sunday August 17

8:00 – 10:00 AM Buffet breakfast

11:00 AM Departures with drop-off at Porta Romana in Florence by 1:30 PM or the Florence Peretola airport by 2:30 PM.





Welcoming CCA – Le Cordon Bleu Externs Armina Pingul and Emily Edwards

Last Thursday night, CCA – Le Cordon Bleu culinary students Armina Tengco Pingul and Emily Lehua Edwards arrived in Radicondoli to begin a three-month externship in the kitchen of Ristorante Nazionale, sponsored by Il Campo/Cucina. We first met Emily and Armina on our February visit to San Francisco, when Il Campo/Cucina chef instructors Francesco Costagli and Mara Bovicelli taught classes to eighty culinary and pastry students at the esteemed culinary school.

So far, Emily and Armina have enjoyed a pizza dinner at La Pergola Pizzeria, sampled a variety of Tuscan dishes at La Nazionale, tasted the best gelato in the world at San Gimignano’s Pluripremiata Gelateria Artiginale, and taken several walks around the village and countryside. They now know what a caper plant looks like and where to get fresh bay leaves, among other useful bits of culinary information.

We are so happy to have you here Emily and Armina–welcome to Radicondoli!



Artisan Breadmaking Workshop at Festa di San Giovanni

June 23, 2012 – Radicondoli

I arrive at the Poggio park at 10:00 AM for a six-hour workshop in the making of artisan bread with heirloom grains. Our instructor, WWOOF-Italia President Claudio Pozzi, started the fire in the new village forno a legna (wood-fired oven) at 5:00 AM.  He is waiting for the temperature in the oven to drop down to 220 degreees centigrade before placing the first batch of the day into the oven. Yesterday the loaves burned because the new and unfamiliar oven was too hot, so today Claudio has taken pains to achieve a beautiful golden crust.

At 10:25, Claudio throws a handful of flour onto the oven floor and counts to ten; the flour in the back of the oven turns black before he counts to seven.
“E un po prestino,” he says (it’s a tad soon). So we wait. He swabs out the oven floor with a wet cinder broom, round instead of flat, wrapped in burlap. It is a looks like a wizard’s broom, but blackened with soot. Note to self: I need one of these if I ever build my own wood-fired oven.
At 10:40 Claudio is swabbing out the bottom of the oven for the fourth time, after a fourth flour toss-and-count test produces brown, not black flour, in ten seconds. The first batch of bread is shovelled in on a large round flat metal paddle that looks like it’s been in use for at least fifty years. Claudio made these loaves this morning, before the arrival of our class, for the dinner tonight at the Festa di San Giovanni.

The Festa di San Giovanni, Saint John’s Feast, is all about the harvesting of grains and protecting the summer crops from evil spirits who were presumed to have easy access to the earthly realm on the summer solstice, when the separation between the worlds was considered to be nearly nonexistent. Otherwise known as Midsummer’s Eve, fairies, sprites and goblins were said to roam the countryside inciting mischief and mayhem with farmer’s crops. So farmers would light bonfires in their fields to keep the troublemakers away, and in the olden days, I have been told that you could see bonfires across the hills and valleys of the  vast Val di Cecina, lighting up the night sky. Nowadays the Radicondolese celebrate with fire-jugglers and one symbolic bonfire that is lit in the piazza an hour before midnight on June 24.
Yesterday I tasted the bread for the first time; it is moist and tangy and toothsome, like the bread baked near my grandparents’ village in Puglia at a famous forno a legna called Pane e Salute in Orsara di Puglia, a bakery that has been in continuous operation for over five hundred years. They make enormous round loaves that are nearly black on the outside, and a lovely golden color on the inside; little did I know when I tasted that bread in 2005 that one day I would learn to make something very nearly the same, here in my own adopted village in Tuscany!.

In this workshop, we are using a starter dough that dates back 130 years. I realize upon hearing this that my Italian grandmother  was born 130 years ago almost to the day of this class, and I sense her presence near. More of that Midsummer’s Eve magic, I suppose.

Claudio distributes bowls with a measured portion of the starter dough, then has us measure our own flour and water and mix it together with our hands. It’s more fun than I’ve had cooking since I made mud pies as a little girl.  We let the dough rest a few minutes, then mix in more flour and lay it on a length of cotton to rise. We each mark our own loaf with our initials. While we wait for the dough to rise,  we learn about heirloom grains and their health benefits. While refined white flour increases appetite, contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, the growth of tumors, increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL (good cholesterol), whole grain flour satiates appetite, decreases abdominal fat, prevents diabetes, and supports the immune system with high antioxidants. In addition, whole grain flour has much more flavor and the bread keeps for several days.

Finally, it is time to shovel the bread into the oven. And in only 35 minutes, the bread comes out a gorgeous golden brown! This year, the evil spirits have surely been frightened off by our determination and enthusiasm, and Radicondoli’s farmers will have a successful and abundant growing season.

For the Artisan Bread Recipe, click here.


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